BBB Tips for Finding the Right Summer Camp

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Rebecca Harpster
Golden Gate Better Business Bureau

Parents, have your kids started counting down the days until summer vacation? With only a few months to go, it is important to start researching possible options for what your children will be doing in their time off. While you are busy at work, summer camp is a great option to ensure they are safe and occupied!

However, choosing a camp can be overwhelming. There are many types of summer camps. Some are day camps, which take place during normal working hours, while others are overnight camps. There are also camps tailored to specific interests. Which type of camp you choose depends on you and your child’s needs.

The specific camp you choose is important as well. In 2017, Better Business Bureau (BBB) received around 80 complaints about camps from consumers nationwide. Common complaints involved issues with registration, problems receiving refunds, and poor management.

The following BBB tips will help you choose a camp with a proven track record for ensuring the safety, health and satisfaction of its attendees:

  • Do your research. Start your search at bbb.org. BBB Business Profiles include contact information, a BBB rating, complaint history and reviews from past customers. You can also use the bbb.org to find a trustworthy BBB Accredited camp near you. If a camp is a non-profit, you’ll be able to find more information through give.org, which is run by BBB Wise Giving Alliance (WGA). Many summer camps are run by BBB Accredited Charities, which meet 20 comprehensive Standards of Charity Accountability.
  • Are they licensed? The California Department of Public Health requires resident (overnight) camps to be licensed. However, day camps aren’t required to have a license. The American Camp Association (acacamps.org) accredits camps that have met up to 300 nationally recognized standards. Accreditation is voluntary.
  • Consider your child’s interests. Sit down with your child to determine which activities they are interested in. There are a number of camps that offer a variety of activities or concentrate on one area such as sports or arts. There are also camps for specific populations such as children with disabilities.
  • Visit the camp if possible. It’s important to look beyond glossy brochures and potentially deceiving pictures on websites. If you can, visit the camp in person to evaluate the living, eating and recreational facilities. You’ll be able to meet the staff and ask questions. If you aren’t able to visit it’s even more important to do your research. Look for photos posted by past campers – don’t just rely on images provided by the camp.
  • Understand the costs and payments. A deposit is usually required to reserve your child’s spot, and it’s only sometimes refundable. Know the total cost of the camp and when payments are due, and see if payment plans are available. Understand the refund policy – if there’s an emergency and your child can’t attend, what percent of your money will be refunded? Know whether meals and transportation are included, and if you’ll have to pay extra for certain activities. Inquire about financial aid and available scholarships. Make sure everything is included in a written contract, and keep a copy.
  • Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and consider it a red flag if a camp is hesitant to answer them. What’s the daily schedule for campers? What medical facilities are on site and what are the medical care procedures? How is homesickness dealt with? Are children able to communicate with parents, and if so, how? What are children required to bring and what’s provided? How is safety prioritized? How are staffers screened? What’s the camper to staff ratio? What’s the camper and staffer return rate? What background does the camp director have? If it’s a specialty camp, what expertise do staffers possess?

You can reach your BBB at info@bbbemail.org or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting bbb.org.

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